Corporate e-reputation is the visible part of an impressive iceberg

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Summary : enterprises fear, and sometimes with good reasons,  the impact on their reputation of what their employees could write on the web. But this fear is sometimes so disproportinate that it leads to ludicrous situations. New balances have to be found in this domain, but that’s not all. The image of the organization, its business behaviors, ethics, also impact employee’s pride, motivation, engagement…and their propensity for harming their employer. Even worse : beyond the visible part that is made of one’s image and reputation, the same causes impact deeper mechanisms that drives quality, performance and the sustainability of business.

Lots of businesses are careful about the impact of their employees’ behaviors on their reputation. Should something negative appear somewhere on the web and an impressive self-defense system is activated. Employees have already been sharing their opinion about their employer with family and friends for ages and there’s nothing new here. The point is that, now, they can share with so many people that the situation has become critical from a corporate point of view.

In some cases we have to admit that employees are going to far beyond what the law and his employment contract allow. Of course we can discuss the right for privacy but there are things one can’t say publicly…even not at all. Not because the organization is over-sensitive but because law says so. That’s as simple as that and apply to the web as well as to any situation in real life.

But, not being comfortable with this new and unavoidable transparency, businesses are sometimes over sensitive and react to anything that’s said about them, regardless to the subject and context. This may make us wonder about to what extent employees belong their employer and what is the limit to having and sharing an opinion. The following video may look caricatured but it raises actual questions that are not that far from reality.

Would businesses want it or not, employees can impact their reputation but not as much as they may think. Once the moment of panic that comes with the emergence of a new phenomenon has ended, they’ll have to accept what’s unavoidable, learn to know what deserves a sanction and not, what is like using a bozooka to kill a fly and what deserves no reaction. After all the absence of criticism is suspicious and transparency can, to some extent, made the organization more human with its qualities and defaults.

A more human organization…that’s the point…

I’m often surprised that some people, even close friends, show few enthusiams toward their work. “Where are you working now ? What are you doing ?”. “Humm…I work for xxxx (low voice…with a sight)”. That’s surpriing because they often work for successful companies that can be proud of what they do, of their products what means that employees could also be proud of working there.

From an employee’s standpoint, the reputation of his employer or, rather, its image, its behaviors, are also felt in a very senstive way. And it affects them more than organizations may think. Social responsability issue that make employees not recognize themselves in what the enterprise do and says ? Loss of community-ship that’s, according to Mintzberg, the cause of many of today’s issues ? No pride of one’s work, what Deming says being a pillar of quality management if not of management ? That’s a little bit of all these things that make people talk a lot out of their company instead of trying to improve things inside.

This leads to two conclusions that apply to the e-reputation battle (as well as for employer brand management).

– both employee and employer impact the reputation of the other and the solution is rather in strenghtening the community-ship than in the sanction, the complaint or the insult.

– reputation is only the visible par of the iceberg : as seen above, there’s a lot of common causes between what causes reputation issues and what causes non-quality and, if we follow Mintzeberg, the behaviors and attitudes that lead to the last economic crisis.

These issues should not be addressed in an unilateral : reputation, quality, actual and sustainable economical performance have to be built together, with the same levers. It all the stakeholders don’t act jointly there won’t be winners on one side and loosers on the other side but only loosers. Organizations as well as employees.